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Lawrence hangs on for Invitational victory

Lawrence hangs on for Invitational victory

EUFAULA, Ala. – Heading into the season, the MLF Invitationals field was stacked with fascinating rookie talent, and some would say that Jake Lawrence of Buchanan, Tenn., led the pack. After a 2023 season at the lower levels that featured constant success, he entered national competition with two Toyota Series wins under his belt, plus a bunch of other tournament-fishing successes.

This week at Lake Eufaula, Lawrence got it done at the Invitationals level (the third level he’s won at with MLF), which earned him a hefty payday, put him in the lead of the Angler of the Year (AOY) race and qualified him for REDCREST 2025.

After topping 20 pounds each of the first two days, Lawrence entered the final day with a moderate lead, and he needed about all of it to win. Weighing in 16 pounds, 4 ounces on Day 3, he totaled 59-10 for the win and the $115,000 top prize. In second, Paul Marks, Jr., of Cumming, Ga., totaled 58-11, and Colby Miller of Elmer, La., rocketed up to third with 20-11 on Day 3, which gave him a 57-2 total.

One of the original ledge lakes, the best of the Tennessee River have a solid history on Eufaula. At the right time of year, the fish set up offshore a lot like they do on Kentucky Lake, Pickwick Lake or any of the other famous reservoirs on the chain. This week, to beat out a Top 10 filled with some of the best young talent and best locals that could be found anywhere, Lawrence was able to lean on his roots.

“I’ve spent very little time on Eufaula, but I have about 20 years’ worth of offshore fishing experience and knowledge to fall back on,” Lawrence said. “It’s something I take for granted, but to have that foundation of knowledge of offshore fishing, I’m comfortable out there; I love doing that. If I can make that happen, you bet that’s where I’m going to be.”

Lawrence got into the game early on Kentucky Lake, having grown up in the area and fished collegiately at Bethel University. Kentucky is where he got his first big win – a Toyota Series triumph in 2018, when he ran from Barkley south of Paris and blew the field away with three days of masterful fishing. This week, Lawrence put in his time behind the wheel to find the fish in practice, and then put it together on derby day.

“I really wasn’t exactly sure what I had,” he said. “A lot of us, including myself, spent a tremendous amount of time idling this week in practice, made very, very few casts, and so we weren’t really sure what we were on, or how well they would bite.”

Fishing schools in creeks and on the main river, Lawrence ended up relying on a handful of baits, one of which he thinks set him apart. Like many in the Top 10, he threw a few minnows on jigheads, including a Rapala CrushCity Freeloader and a Jenko Tremor Shad, on 3/16- to 1/2-ounce heads. Lawrence also dragged a jig a little, and a lizard on a Carolina rig, but the ace up his sleeve was a 3/4-ounce long-bill Tennessee River Tremor Head with a 5-inch Castaic Jerky J.

“I didn’t see anybody else throwing it,” he said of his scrounger setup. “Even though we were all rotating the same schools, I feel like I caught a couple each day that I don’t know how else I would have been able to trigger them – just because everything else I was throwing was the same as the rest of the field.”

Targeting the most tightly clustered portions of schools with the Tremor Head, Lawrence was able to catch some key fish on it each day.

“These were fairly small groups of fish, but inside of that group, there would be a smaller cluster that would be competitive and work with each other to bite,” he said. “I would pan through the school until I found that one little section.

“Once I found that, most of the time I would make my cast and just retrieve it,” he detailed. “You wanted to keep it about 2 or 3 feet off the bottom. I would speed it up and not stop it but slow myself back down. I wanted to envision one racing up to it, and I’d scurry it away, and then they’d basically run into it. You’d get 30 followers for every one that would touch it, and then you’d only catch one out of every four or five that would touch it. Usually, when they’re on that Tremor Head, you can’t get it through the school.”

The bite was not easy all tournament with plenty of pros fishing for hours with little to show for it, and some being in the right place at the right time for big flurries. That seemed to catch up to the whole field on the last day, when only Miller and Justin Barnes topped 20 pounds. Lawrence didn’t crack, though, and still brought enough back to Lakepoint Resort State Park at the end of it to earn the win.

“I expected to be able to pull up on my morning hole and get a 17- to 19-pound limit and cruise through the day and free myself up to look for some new groups,” he said. “I was very fortunate yesterday to catch that bag early and gave myself three hours yesterday afternoon to look for some schools. Today, it was extremely tough to trigger a bite. I knew I had to continue to bounce the schools and run the schools as efficiently as I could.”

In the end, the former insurance salesman turned fishing guide turned tournament pro was able to defend his lead and come away with the trophy.

“There’s so many grimy days that we have, long days away from family, it’s days like today that push us through and keep us going,” he said with trophy in hand. “To be able to get the win here, it’s something I’ve always dreamed of; it’s something I’ve always wanted. When it’s game time, it’s just to catch the next bass. To have it all come together this week, it’s fantastic, and I can’t thank everybody enough.”

Here's how the Top 30 finished:

1st: Jake Lawrence, Buchanan, Tenn., 15 bass, 59-10, $115,000
2nd: Paul Marks, Jr., Cumming, Ga., 15 bass, 58-15, $50,000
3rd: Colby Miller, Elmer, La., 15 bass, 57-2, $20,000
4th: Tucker Smith, Birmingham, Ala., 15 bass, 56-15, $18,000
5th: Cal Lane, Guntersville, Ala., 15 bass, 56-5, $17,000
6th: Justin Barnes, Ellaville, Ga., 15 bass, 55-12, $16,000
7th: Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., 15 bass, 54-11, $15,000
8th: Kyle Hall, Granbury, Texas, 15 bass, 52-9, $14,000
9th: Dakota Ebare, Brookeland, Texas, 15 bass, 52-9, $13,000
10th: Emil Wagner, Marietta, Ga., 15 bass, 50-14, $12,000
11th: Brock Reinkemeyer, Warsaw, Mo., 15 bass, 50-14, $10,000
12th: Jaden Parrish, Liberty, Texas, 15 bass, 49-12, $10,000
13th: Mark Condron, Murfreesboro, Tenn., 14 bass, 49-1, $10,000
14th: Nick Hatfield, Greeneville, Tenn., 15 bass, 49-1, $10,000
15th: Marshall Hughes, Hemphill, Texas, 15 bass, 48-13, $10,000
16th: Brad Jelinek, Lincoln, Mo., 15 bass, 47-13, $10,000
17th: Jacob Walker, Springville, Ala., 15 bass, 47-7, $10,000
18th: Braxton Setzer, Wetumpka, Ala., 15 bass, 46-14, $10,000
19th: Keith Carson, DeBary, Fla., 15 bass, 46-7, $10,000
20th: Alex Davis, Albertville, Ala., 15 bass, 46-7, $10,000
21st: Buddy Benson, Dahlonega, Ga., 15 bass, 46-6, $10,000
22nd: Alec Morrison, Peru, N.Y., 15 bass, 46-3, $10,000
23rd: Andrew Nordbye, Guntersville, Ala., 15 bass, 46-0, $10,000
24th: Flint Davis, Leesburg, Ga., 15 bass, 45-13, $11,000
25th: Blake Hall, Rogersville, Ala., 15 bass, 45-10, $10,000
26th: Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., 15 bass, 45-5, $10,000
27th: Rusty Salewske, Alpine, Calif., 15 bass, 42-15, $10,000
28th: Kyle Cortiana, Broken Arrow, Okla., 15 bass, 42-11, $10,000
29th: Ethan King, Wilsonville, Ala., 12 bass, 41-15, $10,000
30th: Matt Baty, Bainbridge, Ga., 15 bass, 41-13, $10,000

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